Sunday, June 25th, 2017

Cookin’ in the kitchen serves up a jazz performance

Matthew Craig

Posted on May 04, 2017 in Arts & Culture
By USM Free Press

Matthew Craig
Matthew Craig

By Matthew Craig, Arts & Culture Editor

On Friday, April 28, USM’s jazz faculty played a concert called Cookin’ in the Kitchen. This concert was the result of work by band members and organizer Chris Klaxton, who devised a set of tunes from traditional jazz as well as popular music. The idea was to blend the two in such a way that popular music would be expressed in the jazz tradition.

Though the concert, based on its description, seemed to be very innovative, it was very much jazz. The concert began with a fast-paced bop tune by Lee Morgan called “The Sidewinder,” then vocalist Taylor O’Donnell came on stage and the band performed a vocal rendition of Ray Henderson’s “Bye Bye Blackbird.” Then, after a version of “Feel Like Making Love” by Eugene McDaniels, which was popularized by soul singer Roberta Flack, Taylor left the stage and the instrumental jazz resumed with a version of Wayne Shorter’s “Footprints.”

The concert was Maine’s jazz at its best. If only it had taken place at Blue, it would have been quite an experience. Nonetheless, it was an excellent performance. Each band member had their time to showcase their skills with a solo in each song, and each is very talented. Gary Wittner, guitarist, displayed his virtuosity with apparent ease; Les Harris, Jr. broke off into rhythmic tangents and had to be reigned in at times; Barry Saunders, saxophone, served up some exceptionally meaty chops; Taylor O’Donnell laid down some memorable scat solos. On the last song in the set, the reserved, yet dynamic and skilled, Bronek Suchanek had his time to stand out; he surprised the audience with a powerful and inventive solo that made even him crack a smile.

The arrangement of this set was very well done. Chris Klaxton, at times, played the trumpet, and at other times the piano. He also had his solos, with one particularly powerful trumpet solo toward the end of the concert. He laid down funky chords, played complex solos and supported other band members with poetic flourishes. He also provided insights into many of the tunes throughout the performance, adding an educational element to the concert.
Cookin’ in the Kitchen was a wonderful experience provided by some of the best talent USM employs, and it’s worth keeping an eye out for future performances by jazz faculty artists. Especially for those unfamiliar with jazz, these performances are worthwhile and are unlike anything else.